From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Gaines, Harris Barrett, Sr.

(born: April 6, 1887  -  died: January 21, 1964) 

Born in Henderson, KY, Harris B. Gaines, Sr. was Assistant State's Attorney in Cook County, Illinois (1925-1928) and a member of the Illinois State Legislature (1928-1935). Gaines represented the 1st District of Chicago. He had a private law practice before and after his political career. He was the husband of Irene McCoy Gaines (1892-1964), and the father of Illinois State Representative Charles E. Gaines (1924-2000) and Harris B. Gaines, Jr. (1922-1978). The Harris B. Gaines and Irene M. Gaines Papers are held at the University of Illinois Archives.

[The Social Security Death Index gives his birth date as April 6, 1888. The date is April 6, 1887, on his WWI draft registration card. Both in Ancestry.]

Much has been written about the political career of Harris B. Gaines, Sr., but little is known about his life before arriving in Chicago. Harris Gaines and his family members came to Chicago sometime after his mother died in Henderson, KY in 1894. When he was a young man, on October 30, 1910, Mary A. Dean transferred property in Chicago to Harris and his brother William T. Gaines, Jr. Their father was already a contractor in Chicago when Harris Gaines graduated from the DePaul University Law Department in the June Class of 1914. Just prior to his graduation, Harris Gaines married Irene McCoy on April 11, 1914.

After law school, Harris Gaines was employed as the manager of the Fraternal Real Estate Co. at 6155 Wentworth Avenue. He also served as the parliamentarian of the University Society of Chicago. The organization was said to be made up of the brightest, the best and most progressive young Colored men and women. In 1917, the Broad Ax newspaper secured Harris Gaines to manage their legal department. Readers were invited to submit their legal questions. The questions would be answered by Attorney Gaines and in the Legal Column of the newspaper.

In June of 1918, Harris Gaines was ill and was sent to a farm near Big Rapids, MI for his health. He returned to Chicago in September of 1918 for a visit, and then returned to Michigan. It was said in the newspaper that his absence was due to his engagement in government activities while on vacation. Harris Gaines was a Republican and in February of 1919, he was a speaker at the large Republican meeting held at the Odd Fellows Hall in Chicago. In 1922, at the First Ward National Republican Club, Harris B. Gaines was announced as a candidate for representative of the 1st senatorial district in Chicago. Gaines and three others lost their bids at the Republican primary to William M. Brinkman. 

The following year, 1923, Harris Gaines was elect treasurer of the Cook County Bar Association. He would be successful in his 1928 bid for House Member in the Illinois Legislature. Two of the items that he advocated for were African American civil rights in public establishments, and for all railroads in Chicago to be electrified. In 1929, Gaines sponsored a bill to punish restaurants and theaters that objected to colored patrons. News of the bill made the newspapers throughout Illinois. Gaines was re-elected to the House in 1930. He brought back his equal rights bill and the bill for all railroads to electrify. The news made it into several newspapers in the United States. Harris B. Gaines won his second re-election in 1932 and he was re-elected again in 1934. He was defeated in the 1935 Republican primary. Harris B. Gaines tried unsuccessfully to regain his seat in the House. 

Harris B. Gaines also served as the Illinois counsel for the Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company in Louisville, KY, and he was the former counsel for Jackson Mutual Life Insurance Company in Chicago. The two insurance companies merged in 1958 with Harris Gaines as the associate general counsel. Harris Barrett Gaines, Sr. died in 1964. He was the son of Mamie Newcomb and William Thomas Gaines, Sr. 

Sources: see Who's Who in Colored America, 1933-37; "Real estate transfers: Lake," Chicago Tribune, 12/06/1910, p.16; "Depaul University Law Department...," The Broad Ax, 06/13/1914, front page; "Halls to rent," The Broad Ax, 11/14/1914, p.4; "The University Society will hold its 4th annual reception...," The Broad Ax, 07/31/1915, p.4; "Attorney Harris B. Gaines...," The Broad Ax, 11/03/1917, p.4; "Mr. Harris B. Gaines...," The Broad Ax, 06/29/1918, p.4; Mr. Harris B. Gaines...," The Broad Ax, 09/07/1918, p.2; Attorney Harris B. Gaines..., The Broad Ax, 11/02/1918, p.9; "Big Republican love feast," The Broad Ax, 02/01/1919, front page; "At the meeting of the First Ward National Republican club..., Chicago Eagle, 02/18/1922, front page; G. O. P. vote at primary," The Broad Ax, 04/29/1922, p.2; Willis E. Mollison is new head of Cook County Bar," Chicago Tribune, 01/10/1923, p21; "Negro insurance companies merge," The Detroit Tribune, 02/22/1958, p.7; "Suit on file contesting primary G. O. P. Nominations," Freeport Journal-Standard, 05/02/1942, p.8; and "Obituaries: Harris B. Gaines," Chicago Tribune, 01/23/1964, p.30.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Henderson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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Read about Henderson, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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“Gaines, Harris Barrett, Sr.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2021-09-07 19:58:19